This is his first film shot in France, and the first made in the form of an anthology. But Wes Anderson’s 10th film, “The French Dispatch”, was made in a similar fashion, and with roughly the same cast, as most of the feature films that came before it. With his demanding and vibrant visual sense and jerky rhythm, his company of free spirits has become his signature.
âI don’t know who gravitated to whom,â Anderson said, in a voicemail message sent from the production of his 11th film, outside of Madrid. âBut as soon as Owen Wilson and I started making a movie, well, I wanted Owen to be involved in the other movies that I would make. As soon as I had Bill Murray, I wanted him on the next. I wanted Jason Schwartzman. It was natural for me.
“The French Dispatch”, about the writers of a mid-century magazine according to The New Yorker, takes place in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-BlasÃ© and was filmed in AngoulÃªme, France. “What I like to do is go to a place and have us all live there and become a real kind of local production, like a little theater company – everything works better for me that way, âsaid Anderson, who lives in Paris. He even likes the verisimilitude in the extras: âI often employ people with their own pets in the background.
Anderson’s demanding, formalistic outlook – in his costumes on set, “he doesn’t look like a Hollywood director, he looks like a Wes Anderson character,” said frequent star Adrien Brody – is balanced by the camaraderie he creates during the shoot each day. is wrapped. His actors and crew often settle into a local hotel and also dine together; his post-shoot feasts are a designer fantasy. As Frances McDormand put it, âWe all share a deeply obsessive and compulsive order of our artistic endeavors.
In phone and email interviews from around the world, his collaborators (including newbies Jeffrey Wright, who plays a James Baldwin-style food writer, and LÃ©a Seydoux, as a prison warden who models for an inmate artist) talked about inhabiting his inventive world. together. Conversations have been changed; some spoilers follow.
FRANCES McDORMAND By chance, I saw “Bottle Rocket” [Andersonâs 1996 feature debut] by myself the day it opened in NYC I went home and told Joel [Coen, her filmmaker husband] there was someone outside doing something familiar. We went back to see him together and he agreed. I’ve seen every Wes movie since.
ADRIEN BRODY Probably 2005, we met in New York. He’s a gentleman, he took me to dinner, we walked around downtown. He surprised me – here is a director I admired so much and who had known my work for years, and told me that he actually went with Owen to see “King of the Hill”, a movie that Steven Soderbergh had done it, and I was chosen at 19. Even then, I would have played any role that Wes came to see me for.
TILDA SWINTON I’ve seen “Bottle Rocket” and I’ve seen every movie since it was released – with awe. After âThe Darjeeling Limitedâ in 2007, I wrote him a fan letter, to which he replied. Shortly after, he asked me to be in “Moonrise Kingdom”.
WES ANDERSON LÃ©a Seydoux, she had a small role in “Grand Budapest Hotel”, it is because I had made a Prada advertising with her. It was sort of a silly little thing, and it was clearly better than the material I was giving it, and so quick to adapt to whatever I suggested. There was such confidence in the way she played these things, and I loved her in the movies.
LÃA SEYDOUX I think he liked my taste – we share this passion for French cinema and the New Wave – films by FranÃ§ois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard. I feel very comfortable with Wes and his world. I feel like I understand him, I understand his vision.
JEFFREY WRIGHT He wanted to have a call with me because he was in Paris, but it turned out that I was heading to Paris. We ended up meeting over a lunch at the Select which was a very fitting start – it’s a very Wes environment. But also, it was one of James Baldwin’s old haunts.
BOB BALABAN I think he had an office in New York. I tried on my red jacket like the narrator of “Moonrise Kingdom” and maybe a funny hat. From the start, everything was magic.
WRIGHT He described this amalgamation of non-fictional characters that made up [the âFrench Dispatchâ character] Roebuck Wright – Baldwin being one of them; AJ Liebling; Tennessee Williams. He sent me the script several weeks later because, in typical Wes fashion, he was still working on it.
LAWS SMITH [Playing a Midwestern art collector with an unerring eye] We talked about Kansas and the hillbilly accent [in the script]. The main character he introduced to me was certainly Dominique de Menil, her and her husband, Jean de Menil. He sent me a huge book about their life and their collection.
McDORMAND [Playing a journalist covering a youth uprising] Wes suggested that I read [the short story writer] The work of Mavis Gallant. What I did and that I really appreciated. And there you have it, a friend of mine was a very dear friend in Paris and the executor of her will. My portrayal is based on a photo Wes gave me of Mavis Gallant, photos my friend showed me of her cigarette and banging and the time I spent with it. Lillian ross years ago.
SWINTON He and I had a long conversation about the joys of Rosamond Bernier [a lecturer on art], which we designed for JKL Berensen. It became clearer over the years where a portrait inspired by her might fit. The rule of thumb is usually this kind of gentle teasing – like with raw wool for spinning – of a character’s overall function down to the smallest detail of form and sound.
III. On the set: work
SEYDOUX He only sent me the lines, I didn’t have the whole script. It was abstract at first. I didn’t know if he wanted me to speak French or English; he said maybe both. I did not know [there would be full-frontal nudity], I did not understand, I think. I went with the current – oh okay, I’m going to get undressed. I have no problem with nudity when it has a purpose. I also like the fact that she is completely naked and then in her uniform. You might think that it is objectified, but it is not, it is very powerful. It is his choice.
WRIGHT Baldwin was to me a window through which I could somehow justify this black gay man who was fleeing America at the time for the place we find in the film; the language, as written, is more Liebling. He is, I hope, truly a man who found solace in his own skin and dignity in his solitude, which was for me, at least after months of enduring this pandemic, truly resonant.
McDORMAND I told Wes that I felt strongly that [her character] Krementz and Zeffirelli [a revolutionary played by TimothÃ©e Chalamet] has NOT had sex. Wes was very diplomatic with me but disagreed. He asked me not to share my thoughts on this with Timothy. However, I did. Timothy’s reaction was basically, “Huh.” Our differing opinions didn’t seem to change the result: Wes was able to express his choice by squealing bed springs on a knock outside Krementz’s bedroom door. I think it works.
BALABAN There’s a lot of room in its precision – it gives you room to breathe emotionally. A large part of his photographs are taken with a mobile camera; sometimes both cameras move as the actors move. It is a choreographed ballet. There is a tremendous amount of synchronicity that has to occur, as he often seeks a perfect hold. It’s not like he’s doing close-ups, close-ups, close-ups and cut them together.
[In a complicated scene in âMoonrise Kingdomâ] I am in the foreground drop a weather balloon and in the background are about twenty scouts [paddling] a canoe. I had a small wind turbine and a monitor; I have to walk in the water and talk all the time. We did maybe 100 takes, for almost three hours.
You would think it would get tedious and the truth is, it is somewhat hypnotically relaxing to do this thing over and over again, to feel the cart moving and to know that you are in the right position to do the right thing.
BRODY Lois would nail the soliloquy, then Tilda would have another big, fast-fire nail patch after that. And I felt such a responsibility not to explode these sockets. Everyone should remember the next person. This is the only thing you need to understand – the level of responsibility. You will burn everyone if you don’t [get it right]. You don’t want to be that person. This keeps you very strong and focused.
IV. Off-set: Dinner
BRODY It’s this beautiful and intense day of work, and then, when it’s over, there is [deep breath] a giant exhale and we all come home together, and it’s a giant family dinner.
WRIGHT It’s a very smart mechanism for creating focus and efficiency, but it also creates cohesion. I just finished my second movie with him [in Spain]. It is a very palatable asylum. It is extremely well served.
BALABAN The only big decision was, which end of the table am I sitting at today? And everywhere you went, there was a friend.
SEYDOUX [At dinner] you have all the technicians – there is no hierarchy. Sometimes you can feel isolated when making a movie, American movies especially – the stars are in their trailers. With Wes, he needs a deep connection with his actors, which is why I think he works with the same people all the time. He is also very shy. And these are all his friends, even me, I’ve seen him now, he’s a friend.
V. The Allure of Wes (and Bill Murray)
WRIGHT There’s a sort of traveling circus where Wes is the ringmaster. The idea that his films are shows and that the setting is a kind of cinematic proscenium, and he wants performance – I really like that. It’s refreshing to break away from the hyperrealism into which the cinema is often sucked.
BRODY This one [in Spain] I really feel like I’m in an acting summer camp. I love all my roommates, my mom visits me – she comes everywhere from “Darjeeling”. [His mother is the photographer Sylvia Plachy.] Wes will put her in the background. My mom is having the best time of her life.
BALABAN Working with him is a profoundly different experience in the best sense of the word. Aside from the fact that he’s endlessly aware of every moment of the film – what he looks like, how he feels – he has a remarkable way of being in general. He’s the same on set as he’s at dinner or at a meeting. He is stable as a rock. I never saw him get upset about anything.
McDORMAND I’m introducing myself because Wes keeps asking – I love his movies. And also to torture Bill.